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Game changer

Romanowski’s skill and leadership led Terrace to its only women’s basketball state playoff berth. She believes it only takes one player to change a whole program. For the Hawks, she could be the one.

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Shortly before game time, she dons the number 22 and with it, she puts the fate of her teammates and the entire school’s history on her back.

She knows that it only takes one player who believes in herself and her school to undo the curses of the past and rewrite the future of a whole program. Senior and University of Denver commit Samantha Romanowski was that one player.

Romanowski’s impact in the Terraceum would be decided at a young age when her father introduced her to her first love: basketball.

“I fell in love with [basketball] in the first grade,” Romanowski said. “I love the competitiveness. You can always be better than what you are, so you always have to work for something.”

Between school teams, select teams and playing for fun, Romanowski has basketball in her blood.

When she reached high school, things became a bit different.

“In high school, I knew the team was lacking players,” Romanowski said. “I thought that getting on the team and helping the team would be the biggest thing I could do. [It was hard] when I first came in as a freshman because [it] was my first time playing on a losing team because I was always winning on my select teams. [Some of the other players] were used to it, but I wasn’t, so that was the hardest thing to overcome.”

Romanowski’s freshman year, the varsity team had a record of 6-14. The next year they improved, but it was very slight as they still had a negative record of 10-11.

Regardless of whether she was on a winning or losing team, Romanowski didn’t limit her hard work to the regular season.

“All throughout the offseason, [Romanowski would] always commit to our team even though she had select [basketball] and other commitments,” MTHS alumnae and Romanowski’s former teammate of three years,Yesenia Pena said. “That showed her true dedication and who she really [is].”

Romanowski’s hard work shined through her play in her junior season. It also had a huge impact on the team. In that season, they went 18-5 and the former co-WesCo player of the year led the team with 18 points per game.

“Our year, last year was the biggest up,” Romanowski said. “The whole [season] turned around and we made [regionals].”

In MTHS’s history of women’s basketball, no team has ever made it to the Tacoma Dome. Romanowski and company had that chance. But it was not going to be easy.

They were faced with a “win or go home” scenario against the Lincoln High School ‘Abes’ who had a respectable record of 14-6.

“There were so many [emotions] going on,” Romanowski said. “The very last game, we were down by two and I remember Nikki [Froehlich] passed [the ball] to Maddy [Kristjanson] and right in front of the half-court, she took that shot, and I was just hoping it would go in. It didn’t and we lost the game and didn’t go to [the Tacoma Dome].”

The Hawks lost the game by two points, 61-59.

“I remember I stormed off to the locker room,” Romanowski said. “I was the first one in there because I was so mad. As one of the top players, you think about, ‘Oh I could’ve done this ‘better,’ or, ‘Oh I could’ve done that better,’ and so I left and just sat by myself. Everyone [in the locker room] was crying because it was a big thing for us.”

The 2013-14 Hawks basketball team had a roster that comprised mostly of seniors, so losing the game wasn’t the only thing that stung.

“[We were] so close. We all had the feeling that we could’ve done it,” senior Riley Zucker said. “We were also really sad because we realized that we wouldn’t all be together again and that [it] was our last year.”

To add insult to injury, or in this case it would be injury to insult, Romanowski was bit by the injury bug later that year during select basketball. She was diagnosed with a torn ACL.

“I didn’t believe it until I got on my phone and talked to [Romanowski] myself,” Zucker said. “I didn’t want to believe it.”

As a result, Romanowski would have to sit out the entire 2014-15 season and watch from the sidelines.

“It really sucked,” Romanowski said.

“I’ve never been benched like that. I mean, I couldn’t play. I hate sitting on the sidelines and not being able to help out my team. If I saw something that they really needed help on, I couldn’t really help them.”

“Sometimes,” she recalled, “they were so close to winning and I couldn’t do anything for them, so it was really hard for me.”

Even though the Hawks would have a less than ideal season with a record of 1-18, the silver lining is that the school saw just how important she was. Although during her three years playing, the team made it to regionals once, it was still the first time in school history.

“We had a pretty tough year last year, but I hope people will look at that and see that one player coming in can change a lot of things,” Romanowski said. “You can change the heart [of the other players], the mind and how they think, their work ethic. That can make the difference in a lot of things.”

A torn ACL is one of the hardest injuries to recover from in all of sports, but even that didn’t deter a Division I school from recruiting and ultimately signing Romanowski.

The University of Denver (UD) was that school. UD’s team has been one or two high-impact players away from making it over the hump and going to the NCAA tournament. UD’s head coach Kerry Cremeans, believes Romanowski can be one of those impact players.

“She comes down to us from the northwest part of the country where the [women’s] basketball is phenomenal,” Cremeans said in an interview with the Denver Pioneers.

“She is tough, not only in her high school season, but also in the summer. Her summer basketball program is absolutely phenomenal. She is a scorer. With us losing Morgan [Van-Riper Rose] to graduation, she is a phenomenal three-point shooter. So is Sam Romanowski. She can light it up from downtown and shoot the three ball deep, so we’re excited to have Sam [Romanowski] join our program and our family.”

Cremeans is not the only one who believes in Romanowski.

“Sam will push herself. She’s a great athlete,” Pena said. “As long as she pushes herself, the sky’s the limit.”

Zucker who has been Romanowski’s teammate for six years, also praised her talent and ability.

“Sam has so much potential. She already has gotten so far and she has already become so great. If she would’ve played, I can’t even imagined what would’ve happened. She probably would’ve been All-WesCo, all star teams for the Seattle Times, and stuff like that. For her to go to college and get her playing time there, she’ll be able to show what she’s able to do,” she said.

Romanowski is a great player on the court, as statistics and accolades will point out, but there is also a side of her off the court that people may not know.

“She’s a great player. But no one thinks about the amazing person that she is, too,” Zucker said. “Half the time [when we’re on the court], it feels like I’m just hanging out with my best friend. She is funny, energetic and crazy, all in such a good way. Off the court, she is just an amazing friend and person.”

Romanowski’s time as a Hawk is almost over and she is one summer away from moving more than a thousand miles to take her talents to Denver.

There, she’ll be crossing up her defender, stepping back to her left and putting up shots with a swish and a barrage of cheers from the crowd.

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About the Writer
Irvin Zhang, Hawkeye staff
I’m Irvin Zhang, a junior at MTHS and this is my first year as a Hawkeye staff reporter. I cover sports. Currently football and volleyball. I plan on hopefully attending Syracuse University where I’ll then go study in the Newhouse School of Communications and major in journalism and become a sports journalist from there. My...
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Game changer